Chief election commissioner VS Sampath announces the dates for the Lok Sabha polls in New Delhi. (AP photo)
It doesn’t get any bigger than this. The world’s largest democracy goes to the polls on April 7 in a massive nine phase exercise in which 81.4 crore people will cast their votes. This is a 100 million more than the number which voted in elections 2009. Despite the overwhelming odds, the elections in India seem to go off remarkably well.
The Election Commission’s efforts have been lauded not just in India but by many countries abroad who have sought the help of its commissioners for their own polls. Each EC has brought further refinements to this infinitely difficult process. The underlying subtext of all these efforts is that it will be free and fair and no one, howsoever mighty, will be able to subvert it.
The introduction of electronic voting machines has vastly reduced the scope for any sort of tampering and the phenomenon of booth capturing seems well and truly in the past. A vigilant media has also contributed to ensuring that people are not intimidated by political goons as has happened in earlier times.
Read: Lok Sabha polls to be conducted in 9 phases from April 7 to May 12, counting on May 16
Read: With LS poll dates out, Election Commission rule begins
The fact that the EC has opted for nine phases as opposed to just five in 2009 is guided by the fact that it wants to make sure that there is adequate security measures in place, particularly in vulnerable areas. This is also why it has decided that polls in Naxal-hit areas will be on one day.
This is the first election in which the None Of The Above option will be exercised by people. If this does not keep politicians on their toes, then nothing will. The EC has rightly expressed its reservations about paid news, or political propaganda masquerading as legitimate news. It wants to make this an offence as this has been a way that many politicians have sought to subvert the model code of conduct. For the first time also, the EC has asked that foreign accounts be declared.
Read: More poll dates give us flexibility for troop movement, says election panel chief
Read: Delhi election officials to launch drive to check misuse of social media
But it in the monitoring of election expenses that the EC faces a real challenge. Our political class, or at least many among them, is notoriously slippery when it comes to sticking to the stipulated ceiling of Rs. 70 lakh. In order to prevent anyone exceeding the limit, the EC has put in place strict monitoring mechanisms including flying squads. The EC has also deployed a vast number of officials and volunteers to oversee the proceedings.
If there is one institution that people have respect for and politicians do not cross in a hurry, it is the EC. Many ECs have stood up the might of the political establishment and got its way. Among the outstanding chief elections commissioners to come to mind are TN Seshan, JM Lyndoh, Navin Chawla and SY Quereishi to mention just a few.
Read: Parties claim spending much lower than Election Commission's limit on poll expenditure
It is the efforts of this one institution which gives credibility to democracy even when people’s faith in our politicians have been dented by the kind of unruly behaviour we have seen in Parliament and legislatures. The finessing that this EC brings to the process will no doubt set the benchmark for the next election. To that extent, both our elections and our democracy are a work in progress and that is how it should be.
Election map: Dates with Destiny
Roll over the map to find poll dates, phases in which the poll would be conducted and total number of constituencies.